Welcome back to the reread of Mistress of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts! This week: Arakasi is very good at seducing ladies but very bad at dealing with the Feelings that come afterwards. If only he had some sort of outlet for his emo. Sure, they don’t have Livejournal in Tsuranuanni but surely he could paint a few tragic poems on silk panels or something. Right? Right? Or maybe a therapy group for emotionally compromised superspies.
Someone write that webcomic, stat!
Chapter 11: Bereavement
I don’t like the sound of this. No more bereavement! Aww, book.
SUMMARY: It’s spring, Mara is healing nicely, and everyone is relaxed and happy. Frankly, this (combined with the ominous title) makes me suspicious. In other joys of spring news, the needra herds and indeed the barbarian horses too have been producing calves and foals. There might be frolicking.
Speaking of frolicking, Hokanu is making bedroom eyes at his wife, which comes to the attention of their son Justin, who makes a pointed remark about baby making and gets nurse-smacked for his rudeness. Once the babysitting is dealt with, Mara and Hokanu indulge in a bit of meadow frolicking of their own, with a definite eye to producing more heirs. Mmm, romantic.
Six weeks later, Mara is certain she is pregnant, and is on the top of the world (despite morning sickness). Hokanu is less overjoyed, not because he wants the baby any less, but because he is well aware that the healing priest was only able to provide Mara with one miracle in the wake of her poisoning and stillbirth: this will be her final pregnancy.
And oh yes, he hasn’t told her this. Bad husband!
Meanwhile, Jiro of the Anasati has spent his spring commissioning siege engines. Speaking of ominous! Hoppara of the Xacatecas has managed to talk Frasai the Imperial Overlord into finally approving repairs on the walls of the Holy City, which sustained damage during that whole Milamber business. I suspect these two pieces of information might be more connected than they otherwise appear.
Gifts start rolling in: for Justin’s eighth birthday, a sword (seems like a terrible idea, but possibly there have been too many eight-year-old boys in my life for me to be unbiased about this issue…); and for Mara, all kinds of congratulatory tokens from her allies and enemies alike. Lady Isashani sends a chest of rare books on warcraft and weaponry, because she is amazing. Hoppara sends pretty flowers because he is young and adorable and knows nothing about what ambitious political dynamo women actually want to receive as gifts.
Mara likes Isashani best.
Meanwhile, in another part of the Empire, Arakasi is totally getting laid. I know, it came as a surprise to me too! Being Arakasi, he has managed to sleep with a girl who is entirely wrong for him, and likely to lead him into certain death. That is how he rolls. The girl in question is Kamlio: a beautiful concubine owned by an elderly if wealthy man, and has no objections at all to being seduced by the saucy Spy Master. Yes, I plan to refer to him as the saucy Spy Master from now until the end of time.
What she isn’t so keen on is that his pillow talk consists of asking leading questions about the whereabouts of her sister. A sister that she never mentioned before he brought up the topic. Oh, Arakasi, you HONEY POT, you. Are you shagging this nice girl for information? Does Mara know this is in your skillset?
Kamlio is deeply suspicious of this mysterious stranger who is obviously after more than just her body. Why exactly should she risk her life for him? He’d better not be offering to buy her freedom or anything because that’s just tacky…
Oh look, he offered to buy her freedom. The fact that he works for a woman and not a man is also enticing as it suggests he’s not planning to pass her on to his employer once he’s done with her. Kamlio gives it up, on the grounds that sexy men with dangerous professions and wandering hands don’t drop in through her window every day of the week, and the resulting sex is so awesome that she does indeed whisper her sister’s location to her new lover.
Arakasi, I am judging you so hard right now.
Hearing the girl’s master approaching, Arakasi slides out of bed and back out the window. He was, of course, doing it for Mara, but he is still experiencing some Feelings for Kamlio which is very new for him. Ugh, emotions suck. Also, they make you vulnerable. These are not good things for Spy Masters. On the other hand, the “family secret” he just seduced out of Kamlio may also be the location of the secret Hamoi tong headquarters. So there’s that.
The chapter’s nearly over and no one is dead yet. Oh, dear, Hokanu’s getting a letter about his father… this can’t be good!
Yep, Kamatsu of the Shinzawai has died—which causes Hokanu great sadness, though perhaps he can take comfort in the fact that Kamatsu died in his bed of old age, pretty much the first person to die of natural causes in this entire trilogy? Oh hang on, this is Tsuranuanni, they don’t approve of natural causes. My emotions, they are mixed!
Hokanu finds his wife in the workshop with a toymaker she has on retainer—building model siege engines with which to beat Jiro of the Anasati! Oh Mara, I love you so much. The men in your life are emoting all over the place and you are busy building tiny tiny weapons of war.
Mara comforts her husband, and wishes to join him at the state funeral, but Hokanu has multiple reasons to be concerned for her security right now. He suggests that she takes the time to visit her adopted family—the Emperor—and “comfort” him for the loss of his friend great ally, AKA hole up in the most secure stronghold in the Empire.
Sounds like a plan.
COMMENTARY: So basically this chapter is all merriment and shagging, until the last few pages where we get to be sad all over again, because this is the Empire Trilogy and none of us can have nice things. I really genuinely think that Kamatsu is the first person to die of old age in this trilogy. Tell me if I’m wrong! It’s sad for Hokanu but if we can get through this book without any more children being murdered, I think I can cope with just about anything else.
Meanwhile who’d have thought that Arakasi would finally find an emotion other than steadfast loyalty? He’s obviously not cut out to be a Mata Hari type spy, falling for the first girl he seduces for information. Though… maybe this isn’t the first time he’s done this. Maybe his entire spy network is just him shagging his way across the empire and picking up gossip along the way! In which case, his Kamlio Feelings are extra special. I want to make him a playlist of sad song lyrics.
I don’t want to spoil anyone reading these books for the first time, but I’m pretty sure things don’t go well for Kamlio/Arakasi. Don’t get too attached!
We’ve definitely got our sneaky, political machinator Mara back. It’s great that she’s spending her pregnancy researching siege engines, and so clever to employ a toymaker to help her build scale models—that’s going to look totally innocent on the budget spreadsheet for this fiscal quarter!
Also I’m pretty sure she gets to keep the baby from this pregnancy, which is a massive relief to me. For a chapter called ‘Bereavement,’ this all could have been a lot worse…
Except of course that Hokanu’s loyalties are going to be a hell of a lot more divided now that his father is gone, given his brother’s previous abdication. No more lazing around as an Acoma kept man – becoming Lord of the Shinzawai means he and Mara are finally going to have their alliance tested. Can you have a marriage between two Ruling Lords/Ladies without one family getting swamped by the needs of the other?
I guess we’re going to find that out, sooner rather than later.
Tansy Rayner Roberts is an Australian fantasy author, blogger and podcaster. She won the 2013 Hugo for Best Fan Writer. Tansy has a PhD in Classics, which she drew upon for her short story collection Love and Romanpunk. Her latest fiction project is Musketeer Space, a gender-swapped space opera retelling of The Three Musketeers, published weekly as a web serial. She is also the co-editor of Cranky Ladies of History (Fablecroft). Come and find her on Twitter!